A Second-Career Idaho PRO Is Dreaming Big

James Hope and his family risk their entire retirement nest egg to build a new portable restroom business. The gamble is starting to pay off.

A Second-Career Idaho PRO Is Dreaming Big

James Hope stops on his route to service a bright-green Five Peaks restroom. His newest truck is from TruckXpress and carries a Masport pump. (Photos by Darren Russinger)

Facing a midlife career crossroads, James Hope took a giant gamble last year and established Rocky Mountain Portables in Boise, Idaho, along with his wife, Cecelia Hope. All they started with was a new pickup truck with a slide-in tank, plus 50 nearly new restrooms — effectively loaned by one of Hope’s brothers, who also owns an Idaho-based portable sanitation company.

Nearly a year and a half and thousands of hard-earned work hours later, the Hopes now own two service trucks and nearly 400 Aspen restrooms from Five Peaks, all tangible signs of a calculated risk that panned out even better than they anticipated.

“It’s turned out to be everything I expected and more,” says James Hope, 48, who notes he and Cecelia Hope plowed all of their retirement savings into the business. “We started with those 50 units from my brother, Barrett, and figured we’d see how it goes. I figured if we got 50 restrooms rented out, that would be a good start.

“I was able to quickly pay him back for the restrooms he loaned me,” he says. (Most of them are monthly construction rentals.) “I attribute it all to providing great service. The more restrooms I get out in the field, the more people see them. And the more that people see them, the more people call me and get to experience my high level of service.”

But the Hopes’ journey from industry newbies to successful business operators resulted from more than just providing top-notch customer service. Their story also underscores the importance of a strong work ethic, thorough market research, financial prudence and support from family members, especially Barrett Hope, who owns B’s Portable Toilets in Rexburg, about 300 miles east of Boise.

“I owe a lot to Barrett when it comes to this business,” James Hope says. “He helped me avoid the pitfalls that he encountered when he started his business.” He also gives much credit to Cecelia Hope, who has been instrumental to the company’s growth by putting in countless hours of hard work. “Early last spring we ordered 120 restrooms and she and I and my 70-year-old father, Dennis, spent a week assembling them,” he recalls. “And I was taking them out as fast as they could build them. It was something to see.”

MARKET RESEARCH

After working for 16 years as a directional driller in gas and oil fields all over the country, Hope decided it finally was time to do something different. “I just got tired of being away from home all the time,” he says.

While trying to figure out a new career path, Hope talked to Barrett Hope, who has been running B’s Portable Toilets for more than 11 years. He suggested James Hope open a portable restroom business in Boise. Hope took time to assess what other restroom companies in Boise were offering and also rode along with Barrett Hope on his service routes for several months to get a feel for the business.

“I felt we could be a huge success by offering a nice brand of restrooms and service that would be second to none,” James Hope says. “We go above and beyond when it comes to service, in terms of making sure our units are clean.”

Hope is enthusiastic about the topic of service. To him, offering customers restrooms that smell as clean as they look is of utmost importance. To that end, he uses products such as Safe-T-Fresh Cabana Spray odor-control products and Lemon Quat, a disinfectant and cleaner from WAXIE Sanitary Supply.

“I can come back a week later and it doesn’t even smell like a restroom,” Hope says. “I get so many compliments from so many people — they’re always asking what we use to make our restrooms smell so good.”

Hope uses Safe-T-Fresh urinal screens. He also makes sure each restroom is stocked with three rolls of two-ply toilet paper and the hand-sanitizer dispenser is full.

EQUIPMENT CHOICES

Hope’s first move was to buy a 2018 Dodge Ram 5500, adding a steel slide-in tank (400-gallons waste and 200-gallons freshwater) and a Masport pump from TruckXpress. He opted for a slide-in rig because it was less expensive than a larger pump truck. “I figured that if things didn’t work out, I could just sell it,” he says.

The investment reflects Hope’s business philosophy of minimizing debt as much as possible. He says that if he borrows money to pay for new restrooms, he pays off the loan within 90 days. “In terms of succeeding with a new business, it makes a huge difference if you don’t have a whole lot of debt,” Hope notes. “I even paid cash for my last truck.”

That vehicle is a 2004 International 4300 with an aluminum tank built by Progress Tank (1,100-gallons waste and 400-gallons freshwater) with a Masport pump. The company also owns 12 hand-wash stations from Five Peaks.

To get the word out about his fledgling company, Hope commenced a grassroots marketing campaign that centered on driving the new service truck around with a trailer carrying two Aspen restrooms. He’d stop at every construction site he could find and introduce himself to the superintendent in charge, give him a business card and a pen with the company’s name on it and try to get them to go outside and take a look at the restrooms.

“Talking to people face-to-face instead of over the phone was critical,” Hope says. “It’s hard to do cold calls, but I’m pretty good at talking to people — I’m an outgoing guy. So I basically sold myself and my services by talking to them.

“At one job site, I talked to the owner of a construction company while he sat inside his pickup truck,” Hope recalls. “He happened to be there when I got there. After about five minutes of talking, he told me to take one of the restrooms off the truck and leave it on the job site. Now he’s one of my biggest clients. I’ve got around 25 units rented out to him right now.”

SWEAT EQUITY

As a longtime worker in the oil and gas industry, Hope is no stranger to long hours; he says he often logged 12 hours a day, seven days a week. But he also got one week off every month — a luxury that’s just not possible in his new venture. “It’s a lot harder physically than I thought it would be,” he says. “It’s a demanding job.”

Hope says he routinely works from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. in summer and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. in winter. So what keeps him going? The fact that he’s working for himself and his family, not someone else. Having invested his life savings in the business also keeps him motivated.

“We put everything we had on the line,” Hope says. “It was either go big or go home. But it has all paid off. I started out more than a year ago with zero contacts and basically sold myself, because that’s all I had — my word, telling people I’d do a good job and provide them with a different level of service. They gave me a chance, so I’m really motivated to not ever let them down.

“It’s been so fulfilling to gain their trust,” he continues. “It’s very gratifying to know they appreciate what I do for them, and I hear that on a daily basis. There’s nothing better than that.”

Looking ahead, Hope is optimistic about his company’s prospects. One of his three brothers, Kent, joined the company in January. Hope also would like to hire another employee down the road, but he concedes that doing so is problematic, given how difficult it is to find people who want to work in the industry or how often people quit after operators invest months of time in training them.

“We’ll see how it goes,” Hope says. “We want to keep growth under control, so we don’t get in over our heads financially or lose our focus on quality service. I would rather turn away a customer than have so many that I can’t provide good service. We want to build this business slowly and steadily. Like they say: Slow but steady wins the race.”


Bond of brothers

Like so many portable restroom operations nationwide, Rocky Mountain Portables is family-owned and -operated — in this case, by James Hope and his wife, Cecelia Hope. But the family business ties run even deeper than that, courtesy of James Hope’s close relationship with another restroom operator: his younger brother, Barrett Hope.

Hope owns B’s Portable Toilets, located in Rexburg in southeastern Idaho, about 300 miles east of James Hope’s business in Boise. Barrett Hope has been in the industry for 21 years, and James Hope says that his brother’s vast experience — and willingness to share it — has contributed mightily to the success of Rocky Mountain Portables.

“There are so many things you can do wrong in this business, and Barrett has been through it all,” James Hope says. “It’s been so great to have him lead me through things and be my mentor through all this. It’s been fantastic. We talk on a daily basis — sometimes several times a day. He’s always there to help me and guide me.”

Much of Rocky Mountain Portables’ success is based on a business template that Barrett Hope used to build B’s Portable Toilets with his wife, Collette. For example, James Hope bills his customers on a 28-day cycle instead of monthly, which effectively provides an extra payment a year — an idea he got from Barrett Hope.

For James Hope and his three brothers, entrepreneurship runs in the family DNA. Kent used to run an upholstery business before joining Rocky Mountain Portables in January, and Bryon runs a car-restoration business.

“I’ve worked with each of my brothers at some point in my life, and we’ve always been close,” James Hope says. “I have a special relationship with each one — I’m really blessed. If I had to say who my best friend is, I’d have to say all my brothers. It’s always been that way.”



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